One of the hardest things about parenting my children through and after a divorce is trying to remember why I loved their father once.
It's not that he's such a horrible guy. He's not, and that's probably why it was so wrenching when he walked out the door, especially since he walked straight into a pair of waiting arms. It's hard to be replaced in every way you thought you mattered, especially after decades of working hard to make someone else feel like he mattered, even when the truth was that he really didn't so much, anymore.
I was watching the movie "P.S. I Love You" last weekend, and there's a wonderful scene between the Mother and Daughter characters (featuring the amazing Kathy Bates) when they discuss her former husband - a man who ran out on his family when the kids were young. Mom talks about how she and her husband used to laugh. The daughter says "Are you talking about Daddy? Because I don't remember that." The Mom looks struck and then says "Well, I'm sorry to hear it, because we did. A lot."
I realized then that I rarely mention their father to my kids anymore, except on a wholly logistical level. This weekend is Daddy's weekend, I'll say, or Tell your Dad I can switch Tuesday for Thursday. Things like that. I try very hard not to say anything bad, even if I feel it bubbling over. My Mother's words echo in my mind: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. I can't say anything nice about having my life pulled out from under me, and living through the aftermath. I can't say anything nice about how I still sometimes have to fight the urge to fold myself into his arms when he walks through the door. I can't say anything nice about my enormous mortgage and the pile of bills on my counter that I have to somehow pay on my own with a third of the money it used to be done with.
But I can talk about how it used to be sometimes. Not going on and on (what's the point in that, after all) but I can share a tidbit here and there with my daughter, who's hungry for when-we-were-young stories. So I tell her about the way the waves battered the rocks that summer we vacationed on the coast of Maine. How he snapped a picture of a seagull just as it took the bread crust from my hand. I tell her about how we collided in the doorway of her bedroom at 3am when she was three months old - something triggered the smoke alarms and we were both out of bed and in her room before we were even awake entirely. We both had a big bruise on our foreheads that took weeks to go away. I tell her about the way he spent an afternoon teaching her brother to swing, holding him in his lap because David was afraid when his feet left the ground.
I can't share the pain, but I can toss a tidbit of love or laughter in there, occasionally. We had it, once. And even though it's bittersweet for me to remember, I can see what it means to her. It means the world.
It means her parents knew how to love each other, once upon a time.
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